The Politics    Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Bad company

By Nick Feik

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison today

Prime Minister Scott Morrison today. Via ABC News

Morrison’s approach to environmental management aligns us with Russia, Brazil and the US

The prime minister held a press conference today to re-announce existing funding for programs associated with “the digital economy” and “building for the future”. Labor’s Tim Watts said that it was the fourth time some of these funds have been announced. It’s hard to know what to make of such press conferences, other than that they’re cheap stunts. Like yesterday’s news drop to The Australian about the government’s support for a “blueprint” for advanced manufacturing, it’s impossible to gauge what Scott Morrison is actually committing to. These are sectors that rely on the sorts of research and development programs, higher education and skills training that the Coalition has cut funding from for the past seven years. The details, Morrison assures us, will be in next week’s budget, but if recent history is any guide, the impacts will be much less impressive than the associated promises.

Given that announcements are so central to Morrison’s leadership strategy, and his words so cheap, it’s fascinating to see which promises the government won’t make.

Guardian Australia today reported that the Morrison government refused to sign a global pledge endorsed by 64 countries committing them to reverse biodiversity loss – because it was inconsistent with Australia’s policies.

The Leaders’ Pledge for Nature was launched this week ahead of a major UN summit on biodiversity being hosted virtually from New York. Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau, Jacinda Ardern and Boris Johnson are among the world leaders who have signed it.

Australia was invited to sign it, but like the leaders of Russia, Brazil, India and the US, our prime minister has refused to sign on to the 10-point plan. 

The Guardian piece quotes a Morrison spokesperson: “Australia has already committed to a net-zero emissions target by the second half of the century as set out in the Paris agreement.” (Note, by the way, how the 2050 target has now become “the second half of the century”.)

But the pledge is about much more than (weak) emissions targets. 

The Morrison government, said its spokesperson, “will not agree to other targets unless we can tell the Australian people what they will cost to achieve and how we will achieve it”.

Readers should look over the actual pledge. The principles listed are uncontroversial, and there are no enforceable targets; only aspirations to achieve “sustainable societies” and to put “biodiversity, climate and the environment as a whole at the heart both of our COVID-19 recovery strategies and investments”. The ambition is to work towards reducing pollution and waste, and to develop and implement a set of “clear and robust goals and targets, underpinned by the best available science, technology, research as well as indigenous and traditional knowledge”.  

Which of these things does our government object to? To redoubling efforts to address “biodiversity loss, land, freshwater and ocean degradation, deforestation, desertification, pollution and climate change in an integrated and coherent way”? To “accelerating the transition to sustainable growth”? To committing “to ending environmental crimes”?

It’s absurd that a responsible nation would disagree with these principles (just look at the company it puts us in), but it’s also unsurprising. The current government’s approach to environmental management is to try to reduce its commitments to any action, to undermine the existing protections (for example, the Environmental Protection Act), to change laws to allow land clearing, and to accelerate investment in damaging industries such as gas. It’s 2020, and the Coalition still doesn’t have a policy to significantly reduce carbon emissions. 

The Australian published an article today stating that Australia’s resource exports are expected to collapse by $40 billion in the next two years, and most energy experts would point out that this is only the start of the decline for coal and other fossil fuels. The Australian public is overwhelmingly in favour of stronger action to protect the environment and prevent climate change. So, if there’s public support for change, and for renewables, and a strong economic case for more environmental action, why is the government working so hard to stymie them?

“Because economic rationalists have left people with the notion that economic progress is driven solely by self-interest, the rich and powerful now see themselves as justified in demanding that the economy be reorganised in ways that facilitate their efforts to get richer and more powerful.”

In the lead-up to next week’s budget, Ross Gittins argues against rent-seeking in all its forms: big business campaigning for tax breaks, the removal of “burdensome regulations” and a further shift in the industrial-relations power balance to favour employers.

“It’s extortion and I won’t put up with it.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison responds to questions about industrial action by the Maritime Union of Australia, which has been delaying freight carriers at the Port of Botany. The MUA has been negotiating with three stevedoring companies for a 6 per cent wage increase over four years.

Welcome to the dumb country
Australia’s universities have been hit hard by the pandemic, with thousands of job losses. Now the federal government wants to change the way the sector is funded, and how much students will pay.


The coronavirus has now claimed the lives of 1 million people around the world.

“Senator Watt: Are you still receiving director’s fees for Strike Energy and Perth Airport?
Mr Power: I actually don’t know the answer to that. I’ll take that on notice.”

In an answer to a question on notice, the federal government has confirmed that the head of its COVID-19 commission, Nev Power, is still being paid director’s fees by the gas company Strike Energy, even as the commission recommends government subsidies in support of a “gas-led” recovery.

The list

“In October 2018, as Daniel Andrews was campaigning for a second term as Victoria’s premier, he made a promise: if elected, his government would establish an inquiry into the private security industry … Andrews won the election, and almost six months later – in June 2019 – Victoria’s police minister announced the investigation had begun. Incredibly, the very industry that was under state review was the same industry used by the government to principally enforce its hotel quarantine policy. What’s more, because of the urgency, it was not subject to the usual tender processes.”

“These new space-mining corporations are keen to get in early on what they see as an emerging market of untold riches. Goldman Sachs Research has predicted that the world’s first trillionaire will make their fortune mining asteroids. On the Moon, water-ice is not the only potentially lucrative resource. It’s believed there are also rare-earth metals such as yttrium, samarium and lanthanum, all used in modern electronics, as well as platinum-­group metals, and possible future energy sources like Helium-3.”

“The managing director of one of Australia’s largest and most influential investment firms says his company, Allan Gray, ‘didn’t take some moral high ground’ in relation to AMP over sexual harassment claims made against one of its executives, Boe Pahari … ‘It wasn’t some altruistic endeavour,’ Mawhinney tells The Saturday Paper. ‘We were trying to make sure that our investment in AMP was protected, and by that I mean we didn’t want to see further brand damage for a business that relies significantly on its brand.’”

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.


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